Sandy area businesses navigate reopening with Phase 1 restrictions
With Clackamas County now in Phase 1 of its reopening as of Memorial Day weekend, several businesses in Boring, Sandy and the Mount Hood communities are still navigating how to safely serve their customers in person.
While some restaurants were able to remain open via takeout throughout the stay-home order, places like gyms, indoor play areas and certain retailers closed either by demand or by choice.
Mt. Hood Athletic Club in Sandy closed March 19 to the dismay of many fitness fans in the community.
Fortunately, co-owner Lila Reed said she and her husband were able to use savings set aside to renovate locker rooms to make up some of the lost revenue, and 200 of the club's members opted to pay their dues to help maintain payroll for employees while they couldn't work.
"We did not charge members dues while we were closed," Reed said. "(The feedback we've received has been) overwhelmingly positive. Members have been very appreciative of the steps we've taken."
Those steps, she added, have been above and beyond what are required by the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We've done a lot of things to keep people safe," Reed said.
Besides the required spacing out of equipment and making disinfectant readily available, Reed said Mt. Hood Athletic Club also has added numerous hand sanitizer stations, used disinfectant wipes and not just spray bottles for those who'd prefer not to touch the bottles, and the club hired people to be roving cleaners, disinfecting high-touch items like lockers and doors. Structurally, the Reeds also had the HVAC system professionally cleaned, installed hepa filters to remove particulates from the air, and increased the fresh air intake.
Mt. Hood had implemented a new group program called Boot Camp shortly before the crisis began. But, because the classes are for groups and also consist of people working out with the same equipment on a circuit, the club has yet to restart them.
"We're certainly not operating at 100%," Reed said. "We're running on about 25% to 30% capacity, but being open requires paying full mortgage and insurance and 75% of our payroll. This is a long-term problem for businesses. You have to think, 'How do you get creative and figure a way to offer services?' We're doing it the expensive way, we're doing it the laborious way, but we're doing it the right way."
Sandy's destination for children's indoor recreation, Wippersnappers Kids' Play Place, is far from fully reopened. Owner Hans Wipper said the business is not open for public use of the play area, but throughout the closure he and staff have been using the kitchen to offer takeout and now will be offering catering for events by request as well as day camps for limited numbers of children.
"We started feeling the effects (of the crisis on business) mid-February," Wipper said. After closing March 16, Wippersnappers began its takeout operation, but stopped that last week.
"It wasn't very successful," Wipper said. "We weren't known as the food-to-go place."
In order to use its space more, the staff started day camps last week. There are camps for children ages 5 to 10 on Mondays and Wednesdays and a camp for children ages 4 to 5 on Thursdays. All camps only allow 10 children and provide lunch and a snack.
"We've had a really positive response," Wipper said. "Hopefully, in Phase 2 we'll have more latitude and be able to do birthday parties. It's had a drastic effect on us. We're struggling to survive."
Dining while distanced
Multiple restaurants in the Sandy area, while not exempt from the economic impact of the pandemic, are happy to still be around to serve people.
Le Happy Creperie and Cocktail Bar had just finished its first week open in Sandy when the state forced the shutdown of dine-in services.
"Overall it's been OK," said co-owner Brie Escalante. "We're grateful we were able to maintain business through takeout."
Le Happy quickly adjusted in March to offer food to go, and still will for those not ready to dine in.
"We're still obviously making adaptations," Escalante said. "We're happy to be open and seating at a limited capacity. It's kind of like starting fresh for us again. It'll be fun and interesting to see how this goes withpeople coming out. We're just taking it week by week. You've got to be flexible and evolve. We hope our guests come in extra patient and know things aren't the same as they're used to.
Chris Corbin of Brady's Brats and Burgers said he similarly had to be quick to change.
"Brady's had to make a few changes," Corbin said. "You have to change quickly in times of adversity."
One of Brady's more recent adaptations was adding delivery. For much of the closure they offered only takeout. Now, even with dine-in available, the restaurant still offers delivery, including wine, cider and beer with your food. Drinks from Boring Brewing are also available at Brady's and for delivery.
"It's really cool to see people back in," Corbin said. "We're starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I really think we're successful now because we could change fast."
Tina Hovey at Mountain Moka said her crew was "ready to go" when they heard about Phase 1 reopening. Half of the cafe's tables have been removed, and all employees are masked. The cafe was really busy Memorial Day weekend, Hovey said.
"We had a lot of new people come through, but everybody's being really respectful," she said. "We were probably up to 80% again that weekend. Phase 1 will definitely help business. Having stricter guidelines also helps people know what to expect. People also feel more comfortable coming in. It's still not normal by any means, but it's better than where we just came from."
Chester's Pub in Boring saw a similar influx of business following reopening.
"You take our busiest day from last year and we made more than that last night," co-owner Tausha Dwyer said. "I think part of it is because Multnomah County isn't open yet."
Besides a full bar and a menu of comfort food, Chester's also offers video lottery, which appeals to many of Chester's regulars.
"This is our little window (with Multnomah County still closed) to make an indent (into lost revenue)," Dwyer said. "We've started opening earlier to accommodate the people coming in. I think we're doing really well. It's a lot busier than we expected. I feel really grateful that we have the space we have."
Things have gone "better than expected" at the Barlow Trail Roadhouse in Welches as well, said co-owner Susie Exley.
"It's a little bit stressful," Exley said. "There's additional responsibilities that come with reopening. We're still trying to get into our new groove. It's a whole new dynamic and people are still concerned. But I think the customers have been great (and) the employees have been working really hard."
The Roadhouse reopened May 27. They didn't make a go of takeout during the closure because of lack of traffic and business on the mountain. But now Exley said business is going fairly well with dine-in.
"Business is still pretty steady considering so many places are still closed up here," she said.
The Shack, El Burro Loco, The Whistlestop and the Skyway Bar and Grill, which are Exley's direct competition on Mount Hood have yet to reopen for dine-in.
The Roadhouse's breakfast menu and items like halibut fish and chips are popular.
Exley did express concern over what a resurgence and possible second closure would do to the business, though she's still confident this crisis won't put them out of business entirely. Food costs also are a concern.
"We have to address prices," she said. "Prices have skyrocketed. Bacon is now $90 a case rather than $42 and prime rib is $12.99 per pound."
That said, the Roadhouse currently isn't serving its entire menu, but Exley said about 98% of the menu options are available and she hopes to be back at 100% and serving up prime rib nights like old times soon.
"I think if something happened again, and there was a resurgence, it would be devastating for businesses," Exley said.
She added that this crisis is unlike anything else her mountain business has seen in the 16 years she's owned it.
"2008 was a difficult year," she said. "We survived the Dollar Lake Fire, the fires in the gorge, the Eagle Creek Fire, but there's been nothing else of this magnitude. Slow and steady wins the race, right? That's how I feel about it. I think people are just happy to get out."
Laura Smit of the fairly new K's Clothing Boutique in Sandy also expressed how appreciative people have been to have a bit of normal back and to know she's taking precautions to keep them safe while they shop.
Smit reopened May 15 and since has been limiting customers, wearing a mask and "going nuts" with disinfecting surfaces and merchandise.
"I'm trying to make as minimal contact as possible," she said.
Smit had only opened two months before COVID-19 hit and said that until then, her business was going great.
"There was tons of positive feedback," she said. "And I've had the same reaction since we opened back up. There's been positive feedback about the fact that I purchase clothing from people in Sandy, which helps those in need of a little extra cash right now."
Pre-COVID and now, Smit washes all items that come into the store before they go out onto the sales floor. In keeping her shop clean, Smit now offers hand sanitizer at the door, sprays all clothes and wipes down commonly touched surfaces and the dressing rooms with disinfectant after every group of customers. Only six people are allowed in at a time to ensure space to distance, and Smit also has the central air on and the door open regularly to make sure the air in the shop is circulated.
"People have been really respectful of that," Smit said. "Everyone's been so accepting of these restrictions and I think grateful to get back out into the social world. I'm so thankful for how appreciative and accepting Sandy's being."
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